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Violent riots hurt minorities, progressive causes

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Violent riots hurt minorities, progressive causes

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

Some protesters became violent during Milo Yiannopoulos' visit to the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesty of Daniel Kim/The Daily Californian.

By Jeremy Wang | For The Pitt News

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As rubber buckshot and molotov cocktails sailed through the air, a speaking event for alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley, was shut down.

Under the cover of a peaceful, student-led protest, a group of masked agitators — many of whom were not university students — smashed windows of university buildings and local businesses and beat students with metal rods, leaving the campus in chaos last Wednesday night.

But the event sparked conversations about the legitimacy of violence and rioting as a means of protest.

As a young liberal whose grandparents survived under the shadow of the brutally violent Japanese empire in World War II, the violence carried out at Berkeley in the name of anti-fascism elicited a visceral and bitter response. Rioting — destroying property and committing violence while protesting has been shown to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations, including ethnic minorities, the impoverished and people with disabilities. What’s more, violence and property destruction doesn’t actually help move an agenda forward.

I spent my high school years in southern California — a region with one of the largest Asian-American and immigrant populations in the United States. The defining point in modern Asian-American history that thrust Asian immigrants into a national conversation about race, equality and protest was the 1992 Los Angeles Riots following the acquittal of police officers charged with beating black civilian Rodney King.

The absence of a police presence during the riots and poor race relations led to Korean businesses being disproportionately targeted by looters and rioters. Koreatown was decimated. Numerous Asian immigrants sacrificed everything to come to America in the hopes of a better life and better opportunities for their children but watched as their livelihoods were ransacked or went up in flames.

Some volunteers armed with a motley assortment of hunting shotguns, tactical rifles and pistols saved their families and businesses from looters. Richard Rhee, a survivor of the Korean War, patrolled the premises around his supermarket and remarked to Ashley Dunn of the Los Angeles Times, “Burn this down after 33 years? They don’t know how hard I’ve worked. This is my market and I’m going to protect it.”

Damages to the city were estimated at about $1 billion, with Asian-owned businesses accounting for nearly half that amount. Over 1,600 Korean-owned businesses were completely destroyed and anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 residents were put out of work. The psychological trauma was extensive as well. The Asian-American community witnessed a serious rise in those seeking counseling and more than 500 patients were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Just as rioting in Los Angeles left a lasting economic and psychological scar on the local Asian immigrant population, riots in Baltimore in 2015 saw similar effects.

The looting and arson of a CVS Pharmacy prevented elderly patients from accessing medication and other residents faced difficulty acquiring affordable food and basic hygiene products. Gangs directed looters and rioters toward stores owned by Asian- and Arab-Americans, revealing serious racial divides within the city. Nearly 200 small businesses were unfit to open again in the aftermath of the riots.

But the impacts don’t just end there. More importantly to those who see rioting as a legitimate form of protest, the consequences are political.

Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, authored a study published just last week in which he examined voting patterns during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in relation to the occurrence of violence and rioting at protests.

Physical damage and violence due to rioting was not compensated by relatively quicker attainment of more progressive policies. Instead, it consistently elicited regressive backlash by a national audience while simultaneously endangering vulnerable populations. The county-by-county research showed a clear connection between incidences of rioting and popular support for political solutions directly at odds with the goals of the protestors.

These events spurred the Nixon administration’s introduction of repressive criminal justice policies which persisted for decades and whose effects are still felt today. On the other hand, nonviolent demonstrations or acts of civil disobedience that didn’t bring harm to others brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement and were linked to greater support for social change.

Rioting does more than just harm those who can afford it the least. It entrenches the policies being protested while rapidly turning public opinion against a movement, making it less likely to achieve reform. Alt-right hatred cannot be successfully fought through violent suppression.

The direct impact of violence and rioting should not be written off as a necessary price to pay for change — it should be avoided altogether.

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Violent riots hurt minorities, progressive causes